Engineers Without Borders, Impact

As our truck rolled into the village center, children and adults alike would wave, with wide smiles and yell “Bula!”  This means “hello” in Fijian, and for two weeks, I would hear it from every person I met. I have just returned from an Engineers Without Borders (EWB) project implementation trip to Fiji and will attempt to capture a glimpse of my experiences with this post.

Our team’s journey to Fiji began in 2009, following a large typhoid outbreak in the Buca Bay area in 2007. With support from our non-governmental organization contacts, we have successfully completed five project implementation trips in three villages: Buca, Loa, and Vunikura. Our projects consist of replacing and rehabilitating pipelines, building biosand filters to improve drinking water quality, and making water source improvements. This year’s trip focused on performing assessments and gathering information from the villages as we begin to embark on larger and more complicated projects upstream of the villages (including a new 20,000-liter concrete storage tank for Vunikura).

So what is it like working in rural Fiji, you may ask? We usually began our days early in the mornings and selected one or two of the villages to focus on for that day. Upon arrival to the village, we would seek out the Turaga Ni Koro (the elected headman of the village) or a member of the village water committee who would then gather villagers to help us with construction. Whether it was sieving sand for the biosand filters or replacing pipe segments, we would first demonstrate to the villagers what we would like to have done and then have them perform the work to foster knowledge transfer. Evenings were generally reserved for plating and analyzing water quality samples we routinely took, and for planning for the following day.

Towards the end of our trip, we had the great pleasure of taking part in some celebrations with the villages, which included food baked in a lovo (earthen oven), a meke (traditional dance/story telling), and lots of laughter and music. As one resident of Vunikura said to us, “The meke and food are all we have to give to you as a token of our gratitude.”

All in all, the trip was a success. We were able to accomplish the tasks we set out to do and identified the priorities and needs for subsequent trips. Our filters are operating as designed by removing at least 95% of total coliforms and E. coli. Some things I will never forget about Fiji are the unrelenting friendliness of the villagers and their sincere gratitude for the cleaner and more reliable water supply we could bring to them. In our last meeting with the Turaga Ni Koro of Loa, he said that the villagers no longer get sick from drinking their water. If that’s not a testament to our work, then I don’t know what is!  As we said our final “moce” (goodbye), I knew that I would be leaving with an experience I would never forget.

I highly recommend getting involved with organizations like EWB. Not only is it an opportunity to experience other cultures and to learn new skills, but it is also a great way to meet fellow engineers and non-engineers who are passionate about giving back. I am fortunate to be part of a company like AECOM that supports great organizations such as EWB.


Aaron Lee ( is an engineer in AECOM’s water business line and has been a member of EWB for three years.

Originally published Sep 1, 2014

Author: Aaron Lee